Taiwan is a county of 24 million people with a landmass a fifth the size of Florida. It is here, in the busy metropolis of Taipei, down an industrial alleyway that onehandmade is churning out some of the most innovative custom builds not only in Taiwan, but on the world stage.
One could be forgiven for thinking that given its sizeable population and reliance on two wheeled transport, that in Taiwan, the motorcycle modification and fabrication industry would be bustling. However, due to import restrictions, the importing of bikes over 150cc was not legal until 2002. The import ban came into place in 1979, so some bigger bikes did exist prior to this time, and in the period of 1980-2001 there were some illegal imports but by and large these were very few.
Even now, high import tax rates and strict emission standards see motorcycling as a hobby for only the well off. In fact, any modification to a motorcycle is illegal in Taiwan. It is in these overbearing market conditions that Chun “Queen” Houng has been perfecting his craft.
Having moved his shop from the smaller city of Hsinchu (where he operated for 10 years) to Taipei (where he has now been for two years), he has been gaining international acclaim with his ability to create his own unique style.
[note: – interview was taken with the aid of a translator]
AR: What are the major influences of custom bike culture in Taiwan?
Chun: The bike modification culture in Taiwan has been around for some time, around 70 years, major influences in the past came from Japan as well as western influences.
AR: Any modification of bikes is illegal in Taiwan, how do you work within such a system?
Chun: I try to make the bikes I build as cohesive and consistent as possible, a consistent and uniform look to a bike draws less attention from the authorities; also, I tend to not make exhausts too loud. Police often target bikes with loud exhausts for inspections.
AR: Given the legal status of modifications – do riders of modified bikes have an outlaw/rebel image?
Chun: Most big bike owners (and especially those with custom builds) tend to be well off professionals. These are not typically people you would associate with the rebel image.
AR: Given how well-crafted your bikes are, are they ridden or are they more for show?
Chun: Most of my customers regularly ride their bikes. Due to the cost of owning such a bike, the common mentality is ‘’if you paid for it, you should use it!”.
AR: Where do you see the bike modification industry going in Taiwan?
Chun: Currently the most popular way to modify bikes is with off the shelf parts. There is quite a lot of interest from younger generations in custom builds and small shops open now and then; however, it appears that the younger generation don’t want to put the time into becoming true craftsmen, often relying on one skill. The industry at the moment is small and tight knit and is likely to remain that way. I do wish that builders in Taiwan adopt a unique style and not simply attempt to copy what is being done elsewhere.
AR: How about yourself? How do you plan a build?
Chun: Customers typically drop off a bike with very general idea of what they want. Of course I will look around for inspiration, but rather than copy a particular style or look, I try to think of ways to evolve it – to give it a distinct style all of my own.
AR: What do you see next for onehandmade?
Chun: My goal is the AMD World Championship in Germany. Onehandmade will be there soon.
Given Taiwan’s love affair with two wheeled transport (the scooter) and slowly increasing wealth as well as availability of motorcycles on the second hand market, it is clear that bike ownership and bike culture is a growth area. Whilst shops like onehandmade are rare, they are on the pinnacle of a motorcycle culture transformation.